Will: Government gets larger, more lawless

By George Will, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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Policies of the Obama administration illustrate an axiom: As government expands, its lawfulness contracts.

The Department of Education is pretending that three laws do not mean what they clearly say. This is documented in the Pioneer Institute’s report “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers” by Robert S. Eitel, Kent D. Talbert and Williamson M. Evers, all former senior officials in the Education Department.

The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind is its ninth iteration), which intruded the federal government into this traditionally state and local responsibility, said “nothing in this act” shall authorize any federal official to “mandate, direct, or control” a state’s, local educational agency’s or school’s curriculum. The General Education Provisions Act of 1970 stipulates that “no provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize” any federal agency or official “to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction” or selection of “instructional materials” by “any educational institution or school system.”

The 1979 law establishing the Education Department forbids it from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum” or “program of instruction” of any school or school system.

However ...

What authors Eitel, Talbert and Evers call the Education Department’s “incremental march down the road to a national curriculum” begins with the Common Core State Standards Initiative. It is not an initiative of any state legislature, but of a governors’ association, state school officials and some private foundations. This push for a national curriculum advanced when the Race to the Top Fund (RTTT, part of the 2009 stimulus) said peer reviewers of applications for money should favor those states that join a majority of states in developing and adopting common standards. The 11 states and the District of Columbia that won Race to the Top funding had adopted or indicated an intention to adopt the CCSS, which will require changes in curricula.

An Education Department synopsis of discussions with the public about priorities in competition for RTTT money says “the goal of common K-12 standards is to replace the existing patchwork of state standards.” Progressives celebrate diversity in everything but thought.

The Obama administration is granting conditional waivers to states chafing under No Child Left Behind’s unrealistic accountability requirements. The waivers are contingent on each state adopting certain standards “that are common to a significant number of states,” or the state may adopt standards endorsed by its institutions of higher education -- if those standards are consistent with the Education Department’s guidelines.

We have been warned. Joseph Califano, secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration, noted that “in its most extreme form, national control of curriculum is a form of national control of ideas.”

As the regulatory state’s micromanagement of society metastasizes, inconvenient laws are construed as porous and permissive, enabling the executive branch to render them nullities.

George F. Will is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Email: georgewill@washpost.com.